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Believe (in) God's Word!

St. Luke 16:19-31

Pastor Mark Schlamann

Trinity I
Zion Lutheran Church  
Harbine, Nebraska

Sun, Jun 22, 2014 


If we had a special kind of calendar on the wall here, one that measured the liturgical year, we would turn the page.  We haven’t switched to a new month, like we did three weeks ago today.  We have moved on to a new time and a new season in the church year.  The festival half has ended, having gone from Christmas to Easter to Pentecost, with those three festivals nicely wrapped up in Trinity Sunday.  We begin the non-festival half, the Time of the Church, the green season.  We see green on the banners, the paraments, and on my stole.  Green is the color of growth.  Outside these doors we are seeing more and more green.  Take a look at the fields that surround Zion.  The fields are green, and the crops are growing.  This green liturgical season we’re in now tends to have a focus on the life and growth of the Church.  How does this growth take place in the Lord’s Church?  She grows through the Word of God and through Baptism.  Before Jesus ascended, He gave His disciples the charge to go and make disciples, to increase the Church through Holy Baptism and through the teaching of the Word.  What happened at Pentecost?  Peter preached the Word—he preached Christ crucified—and his hearers became baptized.  Luke notes in Acts 2 that the Lord added some 3,000 souls to the Church.  The Lord caused this growth through the means He has given to the Church, doing so through water and the Word.  Water and the Word occupy key places in our text, the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

What’s amazing here is who had these and who didn’t.  The rich man had good things, and lots of them, while Lazarus received bad things; he had nothing—and a lot of it.  He couldn’t even afford health care; the dogs came and licked his open wounds.  All he wanted was a morsel of food.  He couldn’t afford to eat out.  He couldn’t afford to eat in.  He couldn’t afford to eat at all.  There was no food pantry.  He waited patiently at the rich man’s gate, hoping to get even the smallest scrap of food that fell from the rich man’s table.  No dice.  No dinner.  No kidding.  Meanwhile, the rich man feasted every day.  He could afford it.  But that’s not the point of this story or of this sermon.  It’s not a sin to be rich or to have nice things.  What is a sin is holding one’s money or possessions in a higher regard than one holds God.  As Luther teaches us on the First Commandment, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” The rich man had many things, but he lacked faith in God.  That’s why, when he died, he was ablaze in eternal hellfire.  Lazarus also died, but he went to heaven?  How is this so?  He believed in God; only believers get to spend eternity in heaven.  Scripture is very clear on this.  Jesus Himself says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

The rich man had no regard for Christ or His Word, and the only water he craved he wanted Lazarus to place on his tongue, to relieve him from his torment.  Even in death, the rich man still had little regard for him, thinking of him as little more than an errand boy.  The rich man, the faithless one, couldn’t take the heat, but he couldn’t get out of hell’s kitchen.  He wanted Lazarus to come and provide him with some brief relief.  And, like Lazarus, who waited in vain at the rich man’s gate, the rich man would get nothing while waiting in hell.  Lazarus, whose name means “he whom the Lord helps,” was in heaven.  The translation used for our text says Lazarus was at Abraham’s side.  It would be more accurate to say Lazarus was in Abraham’s bosom at the great Feast in heaven, leaning against the patriarch and with his head on Abraham’s chest, much like John was in Jesus’ bosom at the Last Supper in the upper room.  Such a posture shows the closeness in the relationship they had—so close that Abraham came to Lazarus’ defense against the rich man’s self-serving request.  He told the rich man there’s no way it could happen because there’s a chasm, a divide, between heaven and hell, one that no one is able to cross.  No one can cross from heaven to hell, and no one can cross from hell into heaven.  There’s no way in Hades that the rich man would get any relief.  Besides, you can’t water a dead plant and expect it to thrive.

The rich man was in torment in the fires of hell.  Such a notion was contrary to Jewish thought.  You see, Lazarus was poor, hungry, and diseased; therefore he must have been a sinner, or else he would not have been afflicted as he was.  The rich man may well have been considered righteous; he would have at least had the respect of the people, who would have believed that he would go to heaven.  However, the opposite was true.  No doubt the Lord spoke this parable to point out the evil and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  The rich man was in hell, although he was Jewish…albeit in name or in blood only.  From hell the rich man cried out, "Father Abraham!" He may have been a physical descendant of Abraham, but he certainly was no spiritual descendant.  The spiritual descendants of Abraham in those days placed their trust in the Messianic promises, the promises uttered by the Prophets, speaking of the coming of the Messiah.  In these days they (the true Christians) place their trust in the Messiah who has come and will come again.  If the rich man had been faithful, he would have heard Moses and the Prophets and believed the Word of the Lord.  Yet there he was—in hell—unrepentant…and still arrogant.  He still thought of Lazarus as little more than an errand boy, a slave.  He wanted Abraham to send Lazarus down to hell and comfort him.  But the sainted patriarch reminded him that there was a gulf fixed between heaven and hell, a gulf no one could cross; one would either be in heaven or in hell forever.  There was no crossing over.

The rich man then asked Abraham to send Lazarus to the rich man's brothers to warn them of what was awaiting them in hell.  Abraham responded, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them" (v. 29).  They needed to hear the Word of God and believe it, for, as we hear in Romans 10, faith comes from hearing, and the place to hear the Word of God was in the liturgy of the synagogue, just as the place to hear the Word today is here in the Lord's house, for He comes to us in His Word.  The rich man thought little of God's Means of Grace, about as little as he thought of Lazarus.  The Word was not enough for the rich man; something spectacular had to happen, like someone coming back from the dead, and then they would repent.  But Abraham rightly said to him, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" (v. 31).  This is most certainly true, since the Holy Spirit does not bring people to faith by a resurrection, but He does so through the Gospel that announces the resurrection of our Lord.  A resurrection by no means brings a person to repentance, for the Holy Spirit brings this about through the public reading and preaching of the Law.  Our God deals with us solely through the means He has prescribed, the means to which He has voluntarily bound Himself—and has done so for our sake.

We are here, wounded by our many and great sins.  Our hearts are broken by the weight of our transgressions.  We seek comfort, but we would rather seek comfort in the things we have, or in the things we want to have.  We lack comfort because we are not content to have what God has already given us to have.  Just as the rich man would not hear Moses and the prophets, so also we do not hear St. Paul as he wrote to St. Timothy and says to us: "Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:6-10).

We look for God to comfort us by giving us signs and wonders; we therefore look outside the means through which our Lord comes to us: through Word and Sacraments.  If we see this happen, we will believe.  If we see that happen, we will repent.  NO!  The Lord gives you His Law so you would be convicted and would repent and His Gospel that you may believe and receive His forgiveness.  To look elsewhere is to sin against God and His Word.  The Lord revealed Himself to Elijah in 1 Kings 19, but not through signs and wonders.  He was not in the wind that tore the mountains and broke the rocks into pieces.  He was not in the earthquake; nor was He in the fire.  No, the Lord came in a still small voice.  This is the voice the rich man ignored.  This is the voice we need to stop ignoring and start hearing, lest we be in torment and need our tongues cooled, for such will be our life in hell for not hearing the Word of God and keeping it.

And so we are here, for the Holy Spirit has led us here to our Lord's house, having marked us as His when we became baptized.  God has dipped His finger in the living water at the font, connected with His Word, to give us relief—rescue—from death and the devil.  He comes to us today in His Word, to heal our wounds and bind our broken hearts.  He spoke to you in the Readings a few moments ago, as His Word was read in your hearing.  He is speaking to you now in the sermon.  It is not my word that you hear, but it is God's speaking His Word through me, in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ.  The Word He speaks to you is the same Word He has spoken to you throughout your life.  He says to you, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."  He also says to you what He first said while on the cross: "It is finished!" By these words Jesus Christ told the whole world—and you personally—that He has taken away the sin of the world, that He has taken away your sin, and has taken it upon Himself and paid the debt entirely, and now He offers the same forgiveness He won on the cross to all, gifts craved and grasped by those who come to Him in repentance and faith.

This is the great message you get to hear each Lord's Day: God has forgiven your sins for His Son's sake.  You know this, and you believe this, for the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith.  He daily and richly forgives all your sins, and He will at the Last Day raise you and all the dead and give to you and all believers in Christ eternal life, that you would join St. John, the beloved disciple, resting in the Lord's bosom at the eternal Feast, even as we rest when Christ our Lord comes to us in His body and blood, where we enjoy personal, intimate table fellowship with our Lord.  May our prayer this day and always be the great hymn stanza: "Lord, let at last Thine angels come, To Abram's bosom bear me home, That I may die unfearing; And in its narrow chamber keep / My body safe in peaceful sleep / Until Thy reappearing.  And then from death awaken me / That these mine eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Savior and my Fount of grace.  Lord Jesus Christ, My prayer attend, my prayer attend, And I will praise Thee without end" (LSB 708:3).

God grant this in Jesus’ Name and for His sake.  Amen.


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